Title contenders to reach Abu Dhabi GP next Sunday levelled at 369.5 points
By Yuri Coghe
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are tied in points heading to the final race of the season next week in Abu Dhabi after the seven-time world champion captured the win in a Saudi Arabian GP on Sunday that can only be described as both hectic and insane.
The Briton also claimed the fastest lap of the race to go levelled at 369.5 points with Verstappen in the drivers’ championship, who finished second in the race filled with accidents, safety cars deployments and on-track battles between himself and Hamilton.
Hamilton now has won in a record 31 different race tracks. He was 19 points behind Verstappen after the Mexican GP on Nov. 7 but went on to add three victories in a row since then.
There’s a comprehensive list of the decisive moments of the race further below in the story.
“I’ve been racing a long time, but that was incredibly tough,” said Hamilton after the race. “I tried to be as tough and as sensible as I could out there, with all my experience over the years… It was difficult, but we persevered as a team.”
The Dutchman added to his list of controversial moves numerous times at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, receiving a five-second time penalty that in the end didn’t change his final position since Hamilton took the lead on lap 53 of 60.
“It was eventful, a lot of things happened that I don’t fully agree with but it is what it is,” Verstappen said. “I slowed down*, I wanted to let him by, I was on the right but he didn’t want to overtake and we touched. I don’t really understand what happened there.”
*The incident Verstappen is talking about will be explained further in the story.
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Valtteri Bottas took the other Mercedes to the podium by overtaking Alpine’s Esteban Ocon at the very finish line. The Frenchman, who won the Italian GP in Monza this season for his first career race victory, was kept from his second podium in 2021 that would have been his team’s third.
“It was not an easy day with all the red flags,” said Bottas. “It wasn’t easy to overtake but I just kept pushing and it was great to take the podium place right at the end there.”
Since Red Bull’s Sergio Perez retired on lap 15 after being involved in a crash, Mercedes now boasts a 28-point lead in the constructors’ championship.
As it happened
Here’s a comprehensive list of the events that decided the Saudi Arabian GP on Sunday:
- The top 3 kept their starting positions after the first lap with Hamilton first, Bottas second and Verstappen third.
- A safety car was deployed on lap 10 following a crash by Haas’ Mick Schumacher. Both Mercedes came into the pits for fresh tires to take advantage of the slow pace the cars were obligated to display at that moment.
- Red Bull kept Verstappen out, so he inherited the lead as Hamilton came back in second followed by Bottas. It looked like the Mercedes had the advantage since they had new tires, but that assumption would soon be proven wrong.
- The race director called for a red flag on lap 14 to give more time for the track marshalls to fix the barrier Schumacher crashed into. That meant teams were allowed to change tires with the race stopped. Hamilton’s advantage was now gone, with Verstappen having both track position and a fresh set of tires.
- On the lap 15 standing restart, Hamilton got the better of Verstappen to put his car ahead of the Red Bull, who was only able to defend his position by going out of the track in turn 1. Pushed to the side, Hamilton was also overtaken by Esteban Ocon, who had also passed Bottas. Verstappen’s move, however, wouldn’t go unnoticed.
- Another red flag followed as Perez, Nikita Mazepin and George Russell all retired after being involved in an accident at the restart. Another standing restart would follow, with Ocon in P1, Hamilton in P2 and Verstappen in P3 as the Dutchman had to give his position back to the Briton as requested by the race director.
- In the second post red-flag standing start, Verstappen put on a tremendous move to go from third to first. Hamilton was also overtaken by Ocon to fall back to P3.
- Hamilton overtook Ocon on lap 18. Believe it or not, actual racing would only resume on lap 33 after a series of virtual safety safety cars due to debries on track and accidents.
- Hamilton had an opportunity to take on Verstappen for the lead on lap 37, but the Red Bull driver once again used the outside of the circuit in his defensive move to keep position. Verstappen was ordered on radio to give the position back. When doing so, he slowed down in the centre of a long straight, leaving Hamilton, who wasn’t aware Verstappen had to give the position back, confused and unsure. It led to him smashing the back of Verstappen’s car, damaging his front wing.
- Hamilton still showed good pace despite the damage sustained in the contact with Verstappen, who received a five-second time penalty for gaining an advantage off the race track when trying to defend his first place on lap 37.
- It was unclear whether Verstappen still had to and would give the position back to Hamilton. On lap 43, however, the Mercedes driver finally overtook his rival for the lead. He kept the first place until the checkered flag to capture the heptic race.
Daniel Ricciardo took advantage of all the chaos to climb from P11 to P4. His McLaren teammate Lando Norris finished in tenth place.
Ferrari got both its drivers in the points too with Charles Leclerc, seventh, finishing immediately ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr, who started in P15.
Between the McLaren of Ricciardo and the Ferraris, Pierre Gasly added another good result to his strong season by finishing sixth.
Antonio Giovinazzi, ninth, claimed two points that could be his last in F1 since he’ll be a Formula E driver next year after Alfa Romeo decided not to keep him for the 2022 season.
Canadians Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi finished just outside the points, in 11th and 12th, respectively. Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda and Kimi Raikkonen followed in P13, P14 and P15.
Sebastian Vettel retired late in the race. Perez, Mazepin, George Russell and Schumacher also didn’t finish.
Despite being tied in points, with Hamilton Verstappen still leads the championship since he won nine races in the 2021 season, one more than his rival.
That means if they both fail to score points in Abu Dhabi next week, a probability that would only make sense in case of a race-ending accident involving the two drivers, the Red Bull man would go on to win the 2021 F1 world championship.
On the occasion of they both finishing in the points, the situation gets very simple: whoever finishes ahead will have clinched the title.
The only instance in which the fastest lap bonus point would be decisive is if Hamilton finishes in P9 followed by Verstappen in P10 – finishing positions that are extremely hard to become a reality.
In this case, Verstappen would need the honour to come out of the race with two points, the same number Hamilton would get by finishing ninth, therefore winning the championship for having one more race win in the season.
The Abu Dhabi GP is set for the Dec. 10-12 weekend at the Yas Marina Circuit.
See the full Saudi Arabian GP results below: